Gene Logsdon and Friends

Lawns Of Purple and Gold

In Gene Logsdon Blog on May 15, 2013 at 6:04 am

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From GENE LOGSDON

Rain and good old-fashioned laziness kept us from mowing the lawn until the first week of May this spring. By then the yard was so beautiful with wild flowers, I didn’t want to mow, but if I waited any longer I’d have to make hay out if it. As the photo above shows, major parts of the lawn had exploded in yellow dandelions, purple violets, whitish spring beauties and pinkish Quaker ladies. Other areas were blooming with wild phlox, grape hyacinths, daffodils, white violets, trillium, toadshade, mertensia, bluebells and even some vagrant tulips. I daresay no horticultural display, requiring hours of skilled work, could have produced a flower garden any prettier. In fact, I doubt very much that human handiwork could achieve such a garden, no matter how much effort and skill were put to the task. All these flowers come up every year without any help other than not mowing them until they are mature. Only nature could produce such a striking carpet of gold, blue, purple, white, pink, maroon and green grass. Who could want to mow such a lovely landscape?

Almost everyone would, that’s who. The Lawn Culture of modern civilization forever amazes me. Green swards of clipped grass are beautiful, no doubt about it, and quite necessary in many instances. Wherever we quit mowing close to the woods we live in, sapling trees spring up five feet tall in two years. But like all things good in the human world, we carry our love for manicured grass to extremes. There are more acres in lawns in the U.S. than in commercial food crops and in fact lawns are the largest irrigated “crop” of all. If you look at the figures, like on Google as I just did, the amount of water, gas, and pesticides we put on our lawns is ridiculous. On something over 40 million acres of turf, we spend $30 billion. Homeowners use ten times more pesticides per acre of lawn than farmers do per acre of crops. In fact, one of the most audacious examples of hypocrisy in this country is the suburban homeowner who piously criticizes farmers for polluting our waterways.

We burn 800 million gallons of gas mowing lawns, and statisticians say that we spill 17 million gallons every year just refilling our lawn machines. If so, that beats the Exxon Valdez spill of 10 million gallons.

We mow a whole lot more than we have to, (he says in defense of laziness). Okay, so I finally mowed the dandelions and clover. They just popped back up again but not nearly as pretty the second time. If I had procrastinated longer, the jungle would have grown so tall the mower wouldn’t handle it. Waiting as long as I did, our lawn looks shaggier than it is supposed to look with all that horrid mowed grass lying on it. It looks okay to me. This craven penchant so many of us have for ultra-neatness is going to be the death of us. Literally in some cases. One of the local farmers lost his life trying to get that one last tuft of tall grass mowed along his creek bank. His tractor turned over on him.

Lawns, say there defenders, provide a neighborhood with more air conditioning than air-conditioners do. They certainly soak up more rain than driveways and parking lots. Lots of other good things too, but now I read in Urban Lehner’s column online at DTN/Progressive Farmer about a new study that finds lawns emit more CO2 than corn fields. Oh what a lowdown attack on our most sacred of all Sacred Cows. Our lawns might be causing climate change.
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  1. Gene, I have my response to this lunacy.My entire front yard, property-line to property line, is an intensive raised -bed garden. And if I have my way, the back yard will follow suit, as the last of the kids moves out. I really do not care to put all that effort in grass, just to add it to the compost pile. Now, I am eating my labor, so to speak, the excess given away or preserved.

  2. In OR I saw lots of front lawns replanted in luscious veggie gardens! But still, I wonder about the amounts of pesticide used. One has to be conscious of more than the obvious.

  3. Only reason I mow is to keep the ticks down around the house. I used to plant flower gardens before we moved to the farm. Now, most of the cultivated flowers look tawdry and gaudy next to our “weeds”. I do have a climbing rose (for its scent) and sometimes plant sunflowers as they are both pretty and provide seeds for the birds. But I enjoy watching each group of wildflowers bloom as their time comes through the spring and summer.

    • Ditto. Many people around these parts mow huge swaths to keep snakes away but that doesn’t bother me. Ticks do, though–my husband got a tick-born illness last year that thankfully didn’t turn out to be Lyme’s disease. Our farm is in southern Kentucky and I got a tick IN FEBRUARY this year!! When we finally retire and move down there, we’re getting guineas–I heard a pair can rid an acre of ticks in a year :-)

      • Guineas do well if you can handle the noise. Chickens do better in my opinion. They don’t take as long to produce eggs, and you won’t find them roosting in the gutters.

  4. I love the clover, dandelions, violets and other flowering “weeds” in lawns and so do the honey bees. I feel sorry for those poor souls who forever mow and poison their lawns to look perfect. They spend so much money and time for just grass.

  5. My husband and I recently moved to Maine (he’s from suburban Boston and I’m from the SF Bay Area.) We now have a 20 acre meadow area and decided last year to let it (and the rest of the natural and human planted greenery) grow, just to see what was out there. It was AMAZING! Every couple of weeks a new flower and color would sweep across, completely transforming our new “front yard.” We ended up cutting paths to and around the raised beds, the vegetable garden patch and to the woodland trails, so we wouldn’t disturb what the meadow had next to show us.

    It’s now our second year and we’re in dandelion heaven, this week… looking forward to the pink and purple on the way, followed by the yellows and the beautiful lace that follows.

    Breathtaking, especially for a former city girl where lawns are the “order” of the day (meaning rarely optional, by order of the neighborhood CCR’s.)

    I can’t imagine ever having to go back. Ever.

    P.S. Love your essays. Thanks for them.

    • It seems that Americans are lawn obsessed but they don’t know the first thing about their food or where it comes from. I had a conversation with someone today about what “straw” is and this poor woman was stupefied that you have to replant it every year. All of the chemicals that the weekend lawn farmers apply have to be toxic and potentially life threatening.

    • Oh don’t remind me. I spent two years in the US, in Colorado to be precise and twice I managed to upset the neighbourhood lawn police. Two letters to my landlord, the first one because the lawn was too long (I didn’t cut it because it was hot and windy and how did I know that it would survive a cut, English lawns don’t) and on the second one I was commanded to pour herbicide onto the lawn to rid it of weeds. I had been pulling them by hand, but a quick trip back to the UK for a funeral undid all my hard work. They didn’t do anything about the unused lot at the top of the road though that was the source of the weeds. Fume!!!!

  6. If shoveling snow is the most useless of occupations (it’s only going to snow again and eventually it will all melt) then mowing lawns has to be the second most useless. As Christy says above, the succession of beauty in an untouched meadow is a rare, precious and lovely thing.

    On the other hand, fire danger is a real threat in these parts (I live in Maine too) so for safety reasons I keep a short-trimmed moat around the old place. One notion that has really captured my attention is to find a better way of mowing. I really hate the noise, stink, lethality and expense of a motorized mower but one of those little wheeled push mowers is more than I have the energy for, given the damage to the old ticker from that heart attack a few years back. But it turns out that the perfect answer is a scythe.

    This is an astonishing instrument, highly effective at keeping the grass short while being a slow and easy enough movement to not wear me out. It’s very quiet, even meditative when you get the rhythm right and it gives the critters like snakes, moles, voles, frogs, toads and crickets plenty of time to get out of the way. I love that aspect as much as anything else about it.

    I’m really a beginner, having borrowed one and tried it out a few times. There’s a lot to it actually. You need to get one that fits your body, arm length, height and so on. You need to learn how to keep it sharp, which means a stone for sharpening in your pocket and the good sense to not slice your fingers off while working the blade. A peening jig back in the barn is handy too. There are many many different blade styles, American, European, thick, thin, bush blades, grass blades and so on.

    In any case. I’m convinced that is the path for me, so after testing out a few more styles of blade I’ll be in the market for one of my own. Ok, maybe 5, each for a different purpose. (Gotta get rid of that bramble patch on the edge of the pond.) It’s the only thing that makes sense and given how scarce and expensive oil-driven machines will be soon, why not. Besides, what else am I gonna do with my summer afternoons? Layabout the porch sippin a Long Island Ice Tea? As Red Green says, “If you can’t be handsome, at least be handy.” ;)

    • Our reason for keeping grass short is the number of biting insects in our region, mosquitoes, horse flies, deer flies and goodness knows how many others. Keeping the grass down, we hope will keep our alpacas a little happier this year. We have plenty of other places for the glorious meadow

  7. Love this! Thanks Gene. Maybe lawn lunacy be replaced with little tracts of meadow and prairie around every home. All it takes is a change in attitude.

    Oh, if you want to eat some of that sunshiney yellow goodness, here’s a recipe for dandelion flowers. http://lauragraceweldon.com/2012/04/10/eat-your-dandelions/

  8. Gene,
    I’m a little jealous of your beautiful lawn finally needing a mow since we had 10″ of wet snow for a May Day storm and 3″ again the following morning. Our grass is just getting going, and the sheep are impatient!

    John

  9. Gene, Its great how farmer’s minds think alike. Here is a piece I also wrote on the lawn topic called the Grazier’s Lawn: http://www.thegrasswhisperer.com/content/11272 you might like. The grass whisperer

  10. I was thinking about this yesterday as I was mowing my lawn for the first time. As pesky as henbit and dandelions can be around here, I do enjoy seeing them pop up in huge numbers this time of year, which is why it took me til the middle of may to mow for the first time.
    I almost never mowed when we rented, because I think an infatuation with lawns is stupid, but yesterday I found myself really enjoying the illusion of order that comes from freshly clipped areas around the barn and outbuildings and in the front lawn at our new place. And it occurred to me that lawns are quick and easy proof that humans are in the same boat as any other nesting animal, and it made me wonder if most birds make nests without being quite conscious of why they do it and how they might do it more responsibly? Perhaps the world is full of half-conscious activity. This, to me, ties in to genetic predisposition and universal mind etc…
    Why should I mow except to fulfill some primordial need for neatness and order around my home, a safe place for our coming child to play, etc? Or is it because MY dad mowed the yard habitually all through my childhood? The ponderances never end.

  11. My family no longer owns a working lawn mower – just a weed eater for small trimming along the house. We’re on 11 acres of ag land and I graze my sheep in the yard when the grass gets too tall. Gene, I’m surprised, you don’t do that also? We used to mow and brush hog all our land with no animals to eat any of it. Wasted a lot of time and money every year keeping equipment running. When my boys started driving and got jobs away from the house I was left to do it all, and this Mom is no mechanic. So I bought lamb mowers. ;-) I use portable electric netting and rotate the “girls” around to mow for me when the grass is tall.
    I’m thinking about putting a heavy mulch (like the Back To Eden Garden) over several areas of the yard so it looks slighty more manicured, because when we’re blessed with spring rain then the job of mowing can be too much for my girls to keep up with.
    I think it would be neat to run a lamb mowing business. Just arrange for lambs to be brought in (I can haul at least 5 in a mini van ;), fence off with electric netting to mow down a home owners small yard in a day, then bring the flock back to the farm every evening. :-)

    • There are already lamb mowing businesses, the Google campus in California contracts its lawn mowing to one as I recall.

    • hi laura. do you happen to live in northeastern ohio? i’d like to take you up on the lamb lawn service?
      deb harvey

      • Hi Deb, You and a few others might be interested in a pilot project called “Urban Shepherds” that is happening in NE OH. Following is the descriptor for a workshop given at the OEFFA conference last Feb. I attended out of interest and curiosity. I am also including contact for the presenter in case anyone has further interest.

        Urban Grazing: Stop Mowing and Start Growing
        Laura DeYoung
        In 2012, Urban Shepherds was created to promote sheep grazing as a low cost, environ

        mentally friendly alternative to mowing in urban and suburban areas. They partnered
        with the St. Clair Superior Development Corporation (SCSDC) to establish a pilot project
        on Cleveland’s Marginal Rd. In addition to connecting shepherds with flocks, Urban Shep

        herds identifies appropriate potential grazing lots, assists with zoning and permitting for
        sites, prepares the sites, and trains shepherds.

        Laura DeYoung
        ,
        Urban Shepherds, 6560 Ak

        ron Peninsula Rd., Peninsula, OH 44264, (855) 805-5262,
        lauradeyoung@urbanshepherds.com

  12. Most of us poor city dwellers don’t have an option… the City Ordinance specifies 6 inches as the maximum lawn length or they start fining you, and that comes pretty quick in the springtime, so to the mower we go.

  13. Amen!!! I quite spraying my yard three years ago and overseeded white dutch clover that took over most of the crabgrass and other areas. I don’t fertilize except for a little lime and the yard is as nice as any on the block. I do mow but leave the grass higher than most. I read these suggestions in one of your books. Also, most of my back yard is in perennial wildflowers, blueberries, and a large garden.
    Keep writing Gene…slowly but surely your common sense will sink in!!

  14. I have a feeling you’re preaching to the choir here. I left suburbia partly because I could not tolerate the lawn police…um…neighbors, nor they I. I refused to use chemicals on my lawn or flower beds. They were outraged. I was fined more than once. Sadly, I discovered after a few seasons, that in that artificially evolved suburb, the thistles that had survived the chemical onslaughts grew like jungles. They were impossible to eradicate by hand. It was a lose-lose for everybody. Now, I live in unincorporated rural zoning so I can let the dandelions and thistles grow if I want to. The goats love them. My strategy for the grass, weeds and wildflowers is livestock and my strategy for the ticks is chickens. I haven’t got it all worked out yet. Maybe I’ll keep a weed-wacker, but I’m resisting replacing my broken lawnmower.

  15. Well I did play God when was 6 or 8: We had some purple daisies on my apartment block’s bedroom window, and within months, all the daisies in the lawn below were all in pinkish shades. I thought the police would come and arrest me for messing up the lawn, even if I thought it looked prettier in pink… ;)

    What irks me is so-called professional lawn mowers who just mow everything above ground without differentiating patches of grass from patches of flowers. Regularly, a place nearby has a large patch of lilies of the valley under the shade of trees. I would check them out in mid April and be happy to see them getting ready to flower, but comes May Day, they have all been slaughtered to mulch! If I was vegan, I’d probably give up on eating plants as well!

  16. Carmine beat me to the punch on the scythe — I maintained an acre of lawn that way for a couple years. It was a bit of work, but actually not unpleasant in the cool of the evening.

    But then I started using a different tool with many side-benefits: goats! We get milk, companionship, and compost out of them, and now all I scythe is the strip between the electric fence and the driveway, and a few other odd corners and bits that they can’t get at.

  17. The amount of CO2 emitted by a lawn or a corn field is equal to the amount of CO2 sucked down by the plants during growth. There’s no magic. Lawns can’t emit more than they consume, and neither can corn.

    • The study Gene was referencing had to do with oxidation in soils. Lawn soil temps were higher on average than in corn fields which increased soil CO2 emissions.

  18. I have coined a name for what you speak of “Short Grass Psychosis” and its epedemic in surburban American.Makes otherwise sensible grown men do foolish things like poison Dandelions.A few geese a few Guineas and chickens and grass only gets so high,no ticks,no termites nesting to invade the house and virtually free eggs and meat for the table.
    But thats all practical and we all know most Americans have turned against Common
    Sense and all things practical.Years ago even the very rich had a small flock of sheep to
    trim their yards and only grew flowers and shrubs that sheep wouldn’t eat in their yards with a variety of fruit trees of course.But everything has a cycle and I feel there is a jolt of economic reality coming that will solve this issue.

  19. “A lawn is nature under totalitarian rule.” M. Pollan

  20. Gene
    I’ll bet money there would be a whole lot less mowing if people had to use an old- fashion push reel mower & not a gasoline engine or lawn tractor.

  21. The donkeys, sheep and goats are mowing our yard as I type. I listened to Gene a while back and have largely stopped using the silly lawnmower. What a waste of good food!

  22. A benignly managed lawn is not only a joy to behold in all of its colorful splendor. It can lead to some really good eating. Most of the foodstuffs found in your yard are more nutritious than anything you find in the grocery stores. The only reason I mow is to obtain fresh mulch for the Garden. It gets cut high. As for ticks, every Township , Borough , Village and city should mandate backyard chickens as the major component of a LDPP ( Lyme Disease prevention Program). If you don’t want them, file for a variance. Enjoy the bounty at our feet.

  23. I like what Granny Miller has to say on this subject . I believe that there is a fascination with these big fancy lawn and garden tractors , kind of a status symbol , or play farming .

  24. Hens hunting scratching and pecking their way around a yard or meadow are tonic for the harried soul.
    Hens hunting, scratching and pecking their way around a mulched flower bed or newly planted garden are gasoline on the fire of mama’s wrath. And when mama ain’t happy ………
    Hens hunting, scratching and pecking in ever decreasing numbers while coyotes carry them away right in front of the breakfast window and raccoons have daytime lunch buffets are fast tracks to a harried soul.
    Life is complicated but at least it’s interesting.

  25. My bees would love Gene as a neighbor

  26. Surely someone can come up with a ground cover or a kind of grass that is perennial and never needs mowing because it only grows to a few inches. I’m sure the mower makers and chemical makers would object but who cares.

    Or is there already such a thing?

    • There’s at least one species of bamboo that will grow at least as far north as zone 6 that only gets about three inches high. It can’t stand being walked on, but if you have ground that won’t be trampled it might work.

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